Thursday, October 25, 2007

Some Things I Just Don't Get

One thing about the Internet; it can spawn more cases of "Things that make you go 'hmmmm'" than any book ever published or movie ever shown. Case in point: please compare the two photos above. The one on the left shows a beautiful sunset [or sunrise, maybe; who knows/who cares?]in the state of Hawaii. On the right, a classic photo taken in my home town of Buffalo, NY during the "Blizzard of '77" [Understand, here in Western New York State, only the BIG snowstorms get names. And the storm in January of 1977 was historically big. Click for an impartial account]. The point is, while I love Buffalo dearly, we occasionally get some really bad weather, and frequently have to deal with pretty poor conditions. I suspect this is not true of Hawaii [except during the occasional hurricane]. So how to explain the fact that a warm-weather paradise has one of the highest percentage of bloggers per capita in the US, with around 12 % of the city's adults [Honoluluans?] either reading or writing a blog regularly? Still more perplexing is the fact that Buffalo, the one-time "Garden Spot of The North", ties with Pittsburgh, PA, another cold-weather community, for lowest percentage of persons blogging, or reading blogs. Just two percent of adults in these two communities either read or write blogs [see, I'm part of an extremely exclusive community!]. (My source for this intellectual fireworks display, incidentally, is this article from Pacific Business News:;
then again, San Francisco was one of several communities ahead of Honolulu, and San Diego tied with the Hawaiian capitol. Don't they understand they have nice weather? Why wouldn't they prefer being outside to reading blogs indoors? There must be a reason, but for now, this stat is one of "Some Things I Just Don't Get".
-Mike Riley
PS: The Good Folks at "Bloggers United" are gearing up for another mass action on December 17th. You'll get more information as soon as I have any...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Une Femme Galante

"Designed by Dr Joseph Guillotine, a man described as kindly and who wanted to make execution more humane, the guillotine quickly became a symbol of tyranny during the French Revolution.
Victims were placed on a bench, face down, and their necks positioned between the uprights.
The actual beheading was very quick - often to the gathered crowd's disgust - taking less than half a second from blade drop to the victim's head rolling into the waiting basket.
However, debate rages over whether the quickness of the execution was humane or not, as many doctors put forward the notion that it could take up to 30 seconds before the victim lost consciousness.
That piece of gruesome news would not have worried the crowd, which continually called for aristocratic and royalist blood to be spilt.
An estimated 40,000 people travelled on the tumbrels through Paris to die under Madame Guillotine."

You know, I'm not all that different from you. Every day, hundreds of men just like me walk along the streets of this vast city. You may have even seen me, myself, as I went to buy bread, or cheese, or wine. Simple things. Things you do everyday. But when I wear the articles of clothing that conceal my identity, the mask in particular, everything changes. The people in the crowd back away from me in fear. I change from a simple citizen of this New France to The Man Who Kills. The crowd changes from a simple group of people, people like you, remember, transacting life, to a witless mob chanting for death. And maybe that is you as well.

Please understand, I am far from political. Though I am doing somewhat better under the new order, I had no objections to the way things were before. I had food, a roof over my head, enough money for a little wine. What more could any man want? Rather a lot, apparently, if the rumored excesses of the Royals are true...
(I have doubts about the veracity of the mob. Indeed, if you allow me to whisper, I might add that I have some doubts about the mob itself! It cackles like a bird, runs rough-shod over the laws of human decency, which should trump any law proposed by man. My late father never trusted the mob. He told me once, "If your only choice is between a tyrant and the mob, take the tyrant every time. The tyrant is only one man, and will thus be limited in the number of outrages he can conceive and commit. But there is no limit on the mob.")

It was not my day to offer death when the King was killed. I have heard that he approached his end with an almost inhuman dignity. He was said to have prepared himself for the blade before approaching the Guillotine. Louis, when approached by the Revolution guards who wanted to tie his hands before allowing him to ascend the platform, called out in a masterful voice, "Do what you have been ordered to do. I accept that. But you will not bind my hands!" He was a brave man, was Louis.

I admit that I am sympathetic to the King's position. He had actually been trying to reign in the nobility, not at all like his two predecessors on the throne. But the example we had been presented across the ocean, in America, was too tempting to ignore. I believe that, had an acknowledged saint been upon the throne at the point the Revolution began, he, too would have suffered the same fate as Louis.

But whatever was the point in killing his consort, Marie Antoinette? Certainly, she had been a prime example of the excesses at Versailles, but after her children were born she settled down, and became an exemplary mother, and wife to the King. And what was her reward? Separation from her children, imprisonment in the squalid Concierge prison. and the terror of facing the Revolutionary guards herself, as her husband had.

But for all the criticism and torment, she, too faced her death with a special type of grace. As she was led up to me, she stepped on my foot, Now if anyone deserved the freedom to do as they wished, Marie had earned it, Yet she spoke up then, the first and only words she spoke that day. "Pardon me Monsieur for stepping on your foot, I didn't mean to". (Now understand that more than a few have stumbled en route to that final encounter.None, except Marie Antoinette, had ever apologized for a misstep.) Those were the last words she spoke on this Earth.

I pray that, when my last hour comes, that I may approach my end with the dignity and calm that Marie Antoinette did. Quell femme galante!

-Something different from

Mike Riley

Monday, October 15, 2007

Welcome To The Fragile World - A Blog Action Day Posting

Sometimes, timing is everything. Case in point: in the run-up to Blog Action Day, environmental issues happened to come to the forefront, in the form of the selection of Al Gore and the United Nations for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, because of their commitment to the environment. In case you hadn't heard, today, October 15th, is Blog Action Day, and the cause of choice is the need of all humans to take better care of the planet we share.

If you cruise across the Blogosphere today [and I'd encourage it], you will no doubt find statistics, and compelling arguments concerning a better treatment of the Earth. I don't have the statistics, and, for various reasons, I'm actually writing the dispatch from home, where I don't have T1 lines to make accessing those statistics easier. As for compelling arguments, is there a more telling one than the prospect of our grandchildren, or great-grandchildren being unable to enjoy the sounds of birds outside their homes, or to visit a forest filled with life, or even to walk down the street because the ozone levels are too high? Forget what we have already done to this planet; we MUST do better for it!

The folks at the Blog Action Day home site have suggested a few non-profit organizations that are trying to help, and could use your help as well:

-The National Wildlife Federation:
-The Nature Conservancy:
-The Conservation Fund:
There are other suggestions at; if you can help financially, well and good, if not, please consider the role your lifestyle plays in harming or helping the Earth. Reconsider those actions that destroy the air, water, and soil we all need. It takes a whole planet to save the human race.

-Mike Riley

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sometimes, There's Nothing To Add...

The unusual, but eerily familiar-looking house [yes, "house"] pictured above is currently under construction in South Korea. It's the subject of the following article from the AFP news service:
Clean loo campaigner to open toilet-shaped home
by Lim Chang-WonThu Oct 11, 12:54 AM ET
Sim Jae-Duck was born in a restroom and now he plans to live and die in one -- a 1.6 million dollar toilet-shaped house designed to promote his tireless campaign for cleaner loos worldwide.
Sim will open what is billed as the world's one and only toilet house on November 11 to mark the launch of his World Toilet Association.
The 419-square-metre (4,508-sq-foot) concrete and glass structure is rising on the site of Sim's former home in his native city of Suweon, 40 kilometres (24 miles) south of Seoul.
Before he moves in, anyone who is flush with funds can rent it for 50,000 dollars a day -- with proceeds going to his campaign to provide poor countries with proper sanitary facilities.
Apart from two bedrooms, two guestrooms and other rooms, the two-storey house -- of course -- features three deluxe toilets. Unlike the giant "toilet" in which they are located, they will not be see-through affairs.
"A showcase bathroom screened by a glass wall is located in its centre, while other toilets have elegant fittings or water conservation devices," Sim told AFP.
The showcase loo will feature a device producing a mist to make users feel secure. An electronic sensor will raise the lid automatically when people enter, and there will also be music for patrons.
The house, complete with a stream and small garden in front, is named Haewoojae, meaning "a place of sanctuary where one can solve one's worries".
Sim's birth in a restroom was in line with traditional beliefs.
"It was intentional. My mother followed advice from my grandmother that people born in restrooms will enjoy long lives," said the 74-year-old.
Sim's campaign began during his term as Suweon mayor from 1995 to 2002. His drive to transform toilets into "clean and beautiful resting places imbued with culture" earned him the nickname "Mayor Toilet".
Public restrooms in the city were jazzed up with paintings, fresh flowers or even small gardens. His achievements prompted Sim to launch the Korea Toilet Association in 1999, in time for South Korea's co-hosting with Japan of the football World Cup three years later.
Then he decided to take his clean toilets drive worldwide. The proposed World Toilet Association might be seen to rival squeaky-clean Singapore, where the World Toilet Organisation is based, but Sim has said the work of the two bodies will not overlap.
Indeed, he hopes his toilet house will highlight the global need for better sanitation.
"My family has already agreed to preserve this house as a symbol of South Korea's new toilet culture after my death," he said. "The house will be remembered as an example of saving mankind from diseases and protecting the environment."
Sim, a member of parliament, will host the World Toilet Association's inaugural meeting which he hopes will attract 300 representatives from 70 countries.
On the final day he plans to invite all participants to his house, which he said "envisions a new concept to place toilets in the centre of our life".
Sim said his campaign will focus on setting international standards for clean public toilets, adding that countries such as Mongolia, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil are actively supporting it.
Epidemics caused by poor sanitation worldwide cost two million lives a year, he said. Worldwide, 2.6 billion people live without toilets. Elsewhere, poorly designed flush toilets waste vast amounts of potential drinking water, he added.
A future project in his active mind is IT-based toilets, where people can check their health or surf the Internet.
"Toilets were once regarded as stinking and dirty places. Not any more. They must be treated as the sanctuary that protects human health," Sim said.
Alright, I said nothing needed to be added. But I do have a few questions:
1. / Would you really want to rent a toilet-shaped house, at any price?
2. / Does mist make you feel secure [it usually creeps me out]?
3. / Is there a better name for this location than "a place of sanctuary where one can solve one's worries"?
4. / If you were mayor, would you be thrilled to have the nickname "Mayor Toilet"?
5. / Speculate on a world where toilets, clean or otherwise, are "the centre of our lives". Extra credit if you can do so without snickering.
Hoping you see an unusual house or two this weekend...
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fade To Grey

I don't normally blog about sports [and I'm not planning on it, either], but a recent death in the world of sports caught my attention. Somewhere in that group photo on the left [forgive me for not being able to discover where, exactly] is one Edwyn Owen, known for most of his life as "Bob" Owen. Owen was a member of the 1960 US Men's Olympic Ice Hockey team, the first American hockey team to win Olympic gold, and the only one to do so until the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" team. Despite the fact that the '60 squad is nearly forgotten today, its story may be more compelling than the 1980 team.

Kevin Allen, in "USA Hockey: A Great Tradition", said this about the circumstances of the US club in 1960: "In many aspects, the U.S. team's performance at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, was every bit as remarkable, if not more so, than the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympic Games. First, the Americans had never beaten the Soviets. Second, the Canadians were better than the Soviets. Third, the team hadn't played all that well in the 18-game pre-Olympic tour. And finally, some players didn't like seeing Herb Brooks and Bob Dupuis dropped from the team to make room for the Clearys. Dissension threatened to undermine this team before it even arrived in Squaw Valley." 'The Clearys' refers to Bill and Bob Cleary. Bill was a great amateur player who insisted that his brother be added to the roster. They were one of two pairs of brothers on the roster; Roger and Bill Christian, from Minnesota, was the other.

The United States was hosting its first Winter Games since 1932. It was hoped that the Americans could at least match the '52 and '56 teams, who both earned silver. But coach Jack Riley [no relation] pulled his all-amateur [this was in the era that pro athletes were banned from Olympic play] team together, smoothed over the controversies, and led them into the final round. In round-robin play, the US beat Sweden, then edged Canada and the Soviet Union [the first time the US had beaten them, and a Cold War victory to boot], then faced Czechoslovakia for the gold. The Squaw Valley Games seemed to be oddly-arranged; after beating the USSR in an exciting night game, the Americans had to come back for an 8 AM contest the following morning! Sluggish from the previous night's effort, the US trailed the Czechs 4-3 after two periods. But a third-period Roger Christian hat trick [three goals, for the uninformed] helped push the Americans to a 9-4 victory, and the Gold.

The 1960 Winter Olympics, despite being played in the US, didn't draw a lot of interest in the host country. Winter sports in general, and hockey in particular, rated very low on the leisure activity "radar" of the era. CBS, the television network that broadcast the Games in America, paid only $50,000 [a low figure, even in those days] for the broadcast rights. Few of the hockey team's games were televised (although the club's success led to the first national broadcasts of pro hockey in America). After the publicity surrounding the 1980 team, there were reports of some bitterness and dismay among the 1960 team's alumni, feeling that they, too, deserved some renown for their feat.

Most of the Olympians did not end up in pro hockey; in fact, the most famous post-Olympics members were the Christian brothers. They used their carpentry skills to design and build hockey sticks for the successful company that bore their name. Ironically, one of the players cut to make way for the Cleary brothers went on to make some Olympic history of his own. Herb Brooks was the coach of the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" US team.

In retirement, Bob Owen lived quietly, supporting amateur hockey in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas. He loaned his name to the championship trophy of the town's tavern-league. The Bob Owen Cup was an empty beer keg, with a silver cup attached to the top.

Owen died last week, in a bizarre incident in his native Kansas. His car was found in an open field, aflame. Fire investigators believe the vehicle's engine set dry grass under the car ablaze, starting the fatal fire. Bob Owen was so severely burned in the blaze that it took until earlier this week to identify him.

Owen wasn't a memorable part of a nearly-forgotten team. But he did play for his country, and helped achieve victory in unlikely circumstances. Most of us can't say that.

- Mike Riley

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Playing With A Camera

Not much to report. I got this camera [3.2 MP] for my birthday last month from my brother and sister-in-law. I'm not much of a photographer, but I like the way these turned out. Top to bottom, they depict:
- A view of the studio at WJYE-FM, Buffalo, NY, where I work. No more watching the spinning record (or CD). Nowadays everything that goes on the air [except me] is digitally recorded [or re-recorded], then placed into the computer that operates the system. I usually don't wax nostalgic for old technology, but there are nights when I really feel the thing has gotten too easy, and that I should be doing more of the work [Fortunately, the feeling passed in time for payday that week]
-Looking out the studio window, at the "Hotel lafayette" I'm 12 stories up, so a ground level perspective was impossible.
A parking garage near the radio station. I just liked the squares that decorate the second or third levels, formed by half-walls, decking, and the actual decorations themselves. So art can come from anything -
-Mike Riley
"All for now, I'll be back. probably early next week. Yee-fuckin' haw!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

If I Had It My Way, I'd Kill Him

I'm not the first person to ask this question in the Blogosphere, and I don't suspect I'll be the last, but, here it is:
-Is there a more creepy corporate icon than the current Burger King?
I mean, COME ON! Even if you have an aversion to clowns, Ronald Freakin' McDonald is a more benign-looking representation of the Hamburger Empire than Frozen-Faced Freak Boy.
This has been my belief since the current BK was introduced, but I was reminded of it last week, when business forced me to wait for a bus outside a Halloween-themed store. The business was forcing one of its employees to dress up as BK to attract attention to the place, and perhaps encourage people to wear a King costume on Halloween(Not me. Never me. Not now, not ever, NEVER!). Sitting next to me on the bench by the bus stop was a woman who I'd guess to be in her mid-20's. Her reaction to the ersatz icon? "I hope that thing don't come over here. It's just creepy". So it's not just me, as so many of these rants are. It may not be as universal as I suspect it is, but that's BESIDES the point. He's creepy, he's creepy, and that's all there is to it.
To set a baseline: the most-offensive fast-food mascot in recent memory was Taco Bell's Chihuahua, the most awkward ethnic stereotype flaunted by a national advertiser in the last decade or so. But Taco Dog, for all his offenses, was never guilty of frightening little children and adults alike.
I actually felt sorry for the pseudo-King. That costume has to be #1 or 2 on the list of "Halloween Outfits Most Likely To Get You Beat Up By Drunks Offended By Your Face Not Moving. But it's not just that. It's a creepy face, a permanently-goofy expression of Serenity in a world of Perplexities. It's a face that disturbs because it looks singularly un-disturbed. By anything.
And they'll likely sell or rent millions of them...
-Mike Riley